tiles & more
"I love observing current pop culture trends and what defines them, from twerking to Kim K’s newest selfie book. And of course a big part of what defines this pop culture is the music around it," Max Siedentopf offers when asked about his recent project Tiles of Wisdom, in which he juxtaposed the timeless appeal of Dutch ceramics with the hilarious lyrical stunts delivered by over-the-top pop culture big-shots such as Major Lazer, Nicki Minaj, LMFAO, or Lil Jon. "It’s intriguing to actually ‘listen’ to the lyrics that influence so many people’s everyday lives and to analyze why girls can dance all night long to the poetic musings of Lil Jon’s: ‘To the window, to the wall, to the sweat drop down my balls’."
About to embark on a 3000 km trip across Southern Africa to "shoot a lot of fun stuff," we asked Max, who currently works with his "dream agency KesselsKramer Amsterdam" – "A big plus of working at KK is that the office is located in an old church. It’s a really inspiring space and I can tell my grandmother that I go to church everyday." – a few questions about those tiles, his background, and his other projects.
How did it all start with the tiles and the hilarious lyrics?
Since living in the Netherlands and getting to know Dutch culture and traditions I was asking myself how you could take these traditional tiles and portray contemporary wisdom, wisdom we encounter each day. These “Tiles of Wisdom” just needed to have “Bubble Butt, bubble, bubble, butt” on them. The fun thing is, one of the guys from Major Lazer thought the same and got in contact with me because he wanted one.
Nice! What can you tell me about your background – and especially about growing up/living between Namibia, Berlin, L.A. and now Amsterdam?
Namibia has a population of two million people, yet the country is double the size of Germany. The country, the nature and wildlife are beautiful beyond measure, but other than that there wasn’t a lot happening so we had to keep ourselves busy with whatever we could come up with. I think that was great because it kept my eyes fresh, maybe even a little naive, and sometimes it helps me to notice things that others take for granted. After school I decided to move to Berlin where I also studied. Berlin was the exact opposite to the African desert. I was immediately in love with this vibrant city, its masses of creative energy, the ‘fuck rules’ attitude and vast amounts of art wherever you look. Even though Berlin is my favorite city, after four years I decided I wanted to explore other parts of the world, and when I got the opportunity to work for KesselsKramer LA I didn’t hesitate to pack my bags and go. Los Angeles was a new extreme. I love the spirit of collaborating with others in LA, which I think is quite different to European creatives that tend to stick more to themselves. In the process I got to work with a lot of talented people like artist Gary Baseman, Adam Villacin, and Vincent Landay (the producer of “Her” and “Where the Wild Things Are”). I think LA is a great place to be right now as it feels like it is reinventing itself again. And then I got the opportunity to work in a church in the heart of Amsterdam and eat all the cheese and waffles I can, which isn’t too bad either.
Since you haven’t mentioned it yet: Your “Slit Photography” features some skateboarding – is that something you’re also into?
Skating has always been a part of my life in some way or another, from being surrounded by skater friends to working in the Fantasy Factory for Rob Dyrdek last year. I often try to include skateboarding in my work and try to look at it in different ways. A few years back I carved myself a board in the shape of a banana. For the slit photo series I custom-built an analogue camera to photograph skaters in a completely new way and right now I’m trying to translate this effect of the photo series into a video I shot back in LA, the capital of skateboarding.
How come you can't relax? Got an explanation?
I think it might be related that during my youth I had quite the intense lifestyle. I used to do competitive swimming and had to wake up each morning at 4.15 and trained up to 6 hours every day. During those thousands of hours staring at the bottom of the pool it gave me a lot of time to think and come up with many stupid ideas. It also helped to keep my energy in check. Now, I have all this unused energy, which I try to channel as much as possible into my projects from the moment I wake up to when I go to sleep.
You’ve used cakes, tiles, trees… what’s coming up next? Billboards? Trucks? What kind of canvas would you use in an ideal world?
One of the reasons I’m also working in advertising is that I get to use basically every medium one can think of like ‘billboards, trucks, etc.’ It’s a great base to explore all kinds of mediums without necessarily being bound to only one. However, in an ideal world I would probably just be outside all day long doing street art, I love the real world as a medium and how it challenges a stranger’s everyday life and ideally, puts a smile on that person’s face.
Speaking of smiles: How often do you crack up and laugh while working on new ideas? Does it happen regularly?
I have an extremely bad sense of humor, so this happens regularly.
What else can you announce for the rest of 2015?
Well, right now I’m working on a publication of over 200 found images about very happy police officers posing in front of marijuana, I’m in the midst of an ongoing series called “Untamed Africa” which tries to shine a new light on African photography and I want to improve my twerking skills. I also want to focus on directing music videos this year, so that my passion for music and telling bad stories can meet somewhere in the middle. I would also love to do a few more collaborations, so if you are reading this and want to do something fun, write me a mail and let’s get a beer. In short: same restlessness, more bad jokes.
Words/interview: Renko Heuer